We’re pleased to present the second reader review following our weekly Free Ploughshares contest. Today, reader Lynette D’Amico will be looking at our Fall 1998 issue, guest edited by Lorrie Moore.
Ploughshares Fall 1998 Fiction Issue, guest-edited by Lorrie Moore.
Featuring work by Mona Simpson, Charles Baxter, and Gish Jen.
In 1998 I thought I had landed—new job, new relationship, new home in South Minneapolis. Today, from the far north side of Chicago, there’s a new gig, new house, and a thirteen-year relationship.
The Ploughshares Fiction Issue Fall 1998 edited by Lorrie Moore contains sixteen stories that read not like discrete snapshots but together present a vivid and memorable composite portrait. The collection opens with “Afterbirth,” by Shelia M. Schwartz, a story about “a woman so thoroughly married she had lost all gender” on a plane returning to her husband and family after a weekend trip where she picked up a man she didn’t really want “as an experiment to see what it would feel like to do something absolutely wrong, to take on the shape of another life.” The plane seems likely to crash, in spite of the “smooth as glass” composure of the flight attendants and the captain’s “twinkling” and optimistic spin about red lights and missing landing gear.
If “Afterbirth” presents a question of what to consider at the end of life—love and family? A review of regrets? the stories following fill in the beginnings and middles. Children losing parents, lost children in Max Garland’s “The Land of Nod” and an excerpt from Howard Norman’s The Museum Guard, lead to stories about “being in the somewhere middle” stage of life (“Unidealized, Twenty-eight” by Mona Simpson ) and thinking about life choices and commitment (“Carol and Tommy” by Wayne Harrison). Facing life choices often leads to…therapy as two stories in the issue consider what is said and not said in the therapist’s office (a habit of adultery in the very funny “Arabel’s List” by Alice Adams and the provocation of mystery in “Août” by Meg Worlitzer). The issue concludes with stories by Charles Baxter (a breathtaking excerpt from A Feast of Love and Michael Blumenthal’s tribute to a beloved in “She and I.”
Among these many fine stories, it is the first story that haunts me. I read it first and then I read it again last. The fate of the main character, the fate of the plane and all its passengers and crew, literally hangs in the air. The plane ride is intercut with the narrator reminiscing about her weekend infidelity, her marriage, and her role as a mother. At the end of “Afterbirth” we don’t know if the plane crashes, who survives and who doesn’t; we are suspended with so many lives “not yet unfolded, crushed up in cocoons of adoration, still wet with joy and love.” Not unlike where we started thirteen years ago, where we are today.
Lynette D’Amico is a former ad writer and currently an MFA candidate in fiction at Warren Wilson College. She writes a column called “The Scheme of Spaces” for the online journal isgreaterthan.net based on Christopher Alexander’s book A Pattern Language. When she’s not writing fiction and essays, she works as the copyeditor for the online journal HowlRound.com.